Sunday, September 17, 2017

I didn't enjoy this weekend, and why that's okay. (Triumph XII)

I'm not going to sugar-coat my feelings about this weekend.

I overall didn't enjoy it.

I know, it's a supremely crummy thing to say about an event, let alone the event that your own home group has hosted.  Triumph is one of the only events that I and my wife can say we have consistently attended for as long as we have been in the SCA, to call the event 'storied' would be an epic understatement of criminal proportions. Some of my oldest friendships were born at that event, some of our greatest local leaders came of age at Triumph, and at least one past crown was knighted at the event. In the truest of SCA fashion, it is an event born of larger than life personalities with deeds worth of the word 'legend'.

So, of course, this begs the question of what, perchance, could have left me with such an ill opinion of Triumph this year.

There is no single thing, of course. Just as there is no magic bullet that can event single-handedly make a gloomy day bright again, no one pitfall could take down the spirits of a man with my history. But as with any armor, enough of the right blows will eventually chip away at it until the body beneath if exposed.

There really can be no overstating the heat as its own factor. Friday night was warm, bordering on hot, and sticky through and through. Saturday was more of the same, rising like a pot of water brought to a boil over hours. All the cold water and shade in the world could only delay the inevitable hammer blow of fatigue and strain as the temperatures soared into the afternoon. By the time the range closed, I was so tired I had lost track of time and was late to feast, which not only pissed me off but meant that I was late to herald the courses as they came out, the ONLY heraldry I had planned to do that day in the first place. By the time we got home Saturday night, I had a roaring headache, was cross-eyed, and, frankly, not safe to drive. I was still sick to my stomach and borderline miserable Sunday when I woke up.

Complimentary to this is the painful, and the hard-to-accept realization that the person I am today, a grant level veteran voice herald, got here at the expense of many things, including my youth, and much of my endurance. I don't have the resilience I once did, and I can't will myself through heat and fatigue like I used to.

As much as I love the art of archery, and I honestly and truly do, I hate running competitions. By its nature, the archery competitions need to be largely isolated, and distant, and the logistical setup is none too small with targets and ropes and backstops.

Out there at the range, I'm isolated, and largely forgotten by anyone who's not an archer. Now I'm not angry about it, per se, it's just the nature of the beast; I wouldn't expect a heavy fighter, or an artisan, or a cook to willfully distract themselves with some casual impulse of "hey, I wonder who's at the archery field right now?" But that doesn't change the fact that its the type of place that makes me, at least, feel forgotten about.

Additionally, the truth be told, I hate running competitions. I hate telling people "I'm sorry, it was good seeing you, but you just lost that round." I'm told I"m good at that type of thing to some extent, but that comes from my 'its a thing that has to be done' mentality. Don't mistake being good, or proficient, or whatever you want to call it, with having a good feeling about it when it's all done.

And please don't take this as some sideways jab at the archers themselves. The archery community of the north is composed of some of the best people I know and are a wonderful, supporting brotherhood. These are people anyone could, and should be glad to call friends. My issues here are definitively *not* with any of them in any measure.

On top of (but unrelated) to all of that,  getting 'corrected' by someone over something honestly stupid and trivial that evening didn't help. And I think the fact that it was something stupid didn't make it any less aggravating on my tired, overheated, throbbing mind. part of it was the heat, part of it was the "where the hell did that come from?" factor.

To talk about the elephant in the room, there is also the fact that I wasn't site-heralding.

I spent close to a decade of my life before the society and I met trying to find something I was actually good at. Someplace where I was good at what I did, where people appreciated and liked the services I offered, and most importantly, someplace where I can make a difference. It was at Mooneschaodwe Guardian (Triumph's predecessor event) two decades ago, when the site herald turned his ankle and asked me to help him out that Sunday morning. Years, ages, kingdoms, ranks, crowns later, I am the head site herald for Gulf Wars, I'm a driving force behind site herald education in the northern half of the kingdom, and I'm a known and respected heraldic leader in four kingdoms.

And I haven't site heralded my own event in four years.

Why? I could say I was driven off by internal politics, but that's not really a complete truth. I could say I lost my temper and did something stupid enough to make people rightfully mad at me, but that would come with the same caveats. I could honestly and truthfully say a lot of things about why I have stopped heralding my own event, but the one truth that stops that from happening is that there really is no good to be had from retelling that story. The important thing is that I finally reached a point where the political ramifications of site heralding my own group's event became too costly for me to pay in.

In short, I just threw my hands in the air and gave up. The blunt and honest truth of the matter is that Archery was an ultra-convenient, coincidental excuse for me to keep going to the event where I otherwise had nothing to do. This year, all of that, for at least two dozen different reasons, coalesced into a too hot, underrewarding Saturday for me.

Now, before I go on, (and now that I have your attention) I don't want anyone to take away from this that I was completely and only miserable.  I did enjoy seeing my friends, and I was elated to see some of the awards given out in court and during the day. Its not that the day was only bad, its that the negatives in my specific case drastically outweighed the positives.

The truth of the matter is that most of us have been there, especially the veteran players with five, ten, fifteen or more years behind us. Sometimes you are able to 'see the big picture' and see past the rough spots. Sometimes you can force yourself to like the event. But there are times when none of that really works.

But in my mind, the true separator between a seasoned member and someone who has just stuck around for a long time is what, if anything they choose to do with weekends like this. To put it more directly, as well as more poetically:

Q: "What is the difference between a master and a student?"

A: "The master has failed more times than the student has had a chance to try."

To put that in a more practical perspective, a lot of the things listed above were within my power to control or avert. The fact that I overall didn't enjoy this weekend is, in retrospect (said with air-conditioning and Ibuprofin as well)  my failure more than anything else. And it's a failure that I need to work to fix.  It's going to mean time, effort, money, and collaboration. Its going to mean changes, and possibly some drama, but its also going to mean new opportunities with old friends, and maybe even a chance to make some new ones.

No good adventure story ever starts off easy, and that's how I am choosing to see this weekend.

The page just closed on chapter one. Its time to get to work on Chapter 2.

His Lordship Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"Long Live the King!"

Friday, September 1, 2017

Why I Work.

I had a rather profound moment today at the dojo.

My instructor was talking about how much he enjoys watching people learn as he teaches them. Its easy to look forward and see how far you still have to go (in fact, for some of us BJJ white belts, its crushing), but its just as easy to forget to look back and see how far you have come. Having that outside perspective and sharing it with students is a powerful tool,. and can be a great motivator.

One of the things that I appreciate about my Brazilian Jujitsu class is that as competitive as my instructor, John Paul Taylor is, he really, truly, honestly gets a kick out of when one of us latch onto a technique all of a sudden he's on the receiving end of some bone-popping, neck-twisting hold or grip.

I have to say, after putting on armor in the SCA for 7 years, I never really got that. Sure, it was fun when we did learn something, but then all that turned into was literal permission for everyone else at the fighter practice to ratchet things up. Felt like I never really had a chance to enjoy being good at something (or even passable), just a constant litany of "Oh, but you can be better!" There were plenty of times when I did enjoy the hell out of it, but when I look back, I see a balance where the investment on my part was, on a good day, on parity with what I was getting out of it. In short, for me at least, it was a break-even equation, and one done on my own dime.

The part of today's class that really resonated with me, however, was the idea of enjoying the success of teaching more than the pursuit of rank. John Paul has said multiple times that he is much more interested in teaching us than he is chasing another rank. With my work in voice heraldry, I think that sentiment really, truly encapsulates my feelings.

Honestly, as much as I look at all the perks of someday being a Pelican in the society, I think I've been somewhat programmed to say "things will be better when I'm a peer." I don't know if anyone deliberately set out to make that mindset, but Lord knows, its a very real framework of a lot of conversations I've had.

If anyone wants to know why I travel to Gulf Wars each year and head up site heraldry, or why I run scheduled and impromptu site heraldry classes, or why I autocratic AHSS two years ago or why I'm teaching my girdlebook classes everywhere...

When I do any of those, the thought of an award or recognition is the farthest thing from my mind.

Do I think about it? Absolutely.

But I've been down the "what do I need to do next to get X award" road. It's a dark, backward path that pulls out all of the worst in me. And in the end, no award has never been award been enough to get me out of bed or make me drive multiple hours. No, that motivation much more personal, and much more tangible, again at least for me.

If you want to know why? the reasons are two fold.

First, its because the people I teach or work with have a community that not only welcomes me, but we openly encourage each other. Not only that, but many of these people are people I seek out when I'm not working an event and people I just enjoy hanging out with. As corny as it sounds, voice heralds, and more specifically site heralds, are a relatively unique community, and often, we are quick to bond.

And second, its because I honestly get the biggest kick out of teaching people something new and cool. And watching them grow in that skill and do amazing things with the tools I gave them is an even better feeling. And more to that, coming together, as a team, to tackle a big job (like Gulf Wars) and not only doing it, but doing it well, THAT moment of triumph, success, and accomplishment...
that is what I was looking for for so long in the heavy weapons community and never found.
And that is why I don't think twice about doing the work I do today in the society.

His Lordship Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"Long Live the King!"

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Of loss, of friends (Mistress Talanna The Violet)

I'm sure my handful of loyal readers (all two of you [laugh]) are probably wondering why I haven't published anything about This year's Ansteorran Heraldic and Scribal Symposium and the following Known World Heraldic and Scribal Symposium.

Logistically, the reason is rather simple, preparation for the latter started as I was driving home from the former, meaning time to write was non-existent. And after making it to KWHSS in Tennesse, my family continued on to visit my parents and relatives in Virginia for a week. A much needed, if somewhat tiring vacation in itself. Writing never happened.

For something of a summary, our Kingdom symposium was an amazing event, and my hat is off to his (now) excellently Erick, Sar Principle Herald, for helping to orchestrated a series of Heraldic Thistles that not only helped recognised the art in heraldry, but helped set president for future crowns to do the same, a trend I hope to see more of.

Also, My Customer Service class at Known World was a runaway success, with attendance topping twenty-five, and me running out of handouts in seconds. I was able to have lunch with Alexander Ravenscroft, the man I credit with helping to get me part of where I am today, and I was able to join HE Adela from Atlantia for Dinner, a wonderful experience.

Though I'm not going to pull any punches, some of KW was spoiled for me by the conduct of a few people. I know its not fair for me to say I didn't like an event because of a total of two warm bodies, but the fact of the matter is that getting yelled at, or barked at is... unpleasant, to be polite about it.

Between those factors and the time crunch of the vacation, well, as I said time to sit down and write just didn't happen.

But that's not why I'm here now. I'm here because I do have something I need to tell you about.

It doesn't start two weeks ago when I was at my parent's home. In fact, in a way, it ended there. But as a narrative goes we should start there.

I was getting dressed, as I recall, following a morning shower before another full day of museums and meals with friends from high school. My wife looked over at me from the other side of the guest bed, her phone in her hand, a suddenly worried look in her eyes.

"Talanna had a stroke yesterday."

The sad fact of the matter is that I am very good at compartmentalising such information. I think it's part of my emergency services training and experience, but I also know it comes in part from surviving being bullied at school. You just learn not to get mad or wrapped up in the things you truly can't do anything about. From what we learned later that hour, Talanna was alive and had paralysis on one side of her body. Even knowing what the prospects were for a stroke survivor, I was too far away, and too buried in a super busy trip to do much more than say "God, I hope she recovers."

I remember my first time ever seeing Talanna. The Laurel arrived at a Mooneschadowe populace meeting just a few weeks, as I recall after I started playing so that she could formally take Rhiannaon Redwulf as her apprentice. The relationship would ultimately see Rhiannon make it to her own peerage, but at the time, I was too green, you mouthy, too young and far, far too stupid to really understand or appreciate any of that. I just remembered her as the woman in purple, for all that was worth to me at the time.

Years, ages later, I was three days back from my trip "home" to see my parents. I was tired, I was not fully rested, and I was grouchy because how tired I was. The day at work was not going well for me, and some of my customers were being... pushy.

My Phone buzzed just then. We're not supposed to have them out on our desks, but some of us push the rules. I glanced over and saw a facebook notification. I didn't even think twice, I just tapped it to see who had said what.

The wife of my former liege lord had posted one of her characteristic comments on life just then.

"Dear death, please stop taking my friends. It's not okay."

Confused, I IMed her asking after the cryptic comment. For some reason, some worthless, stupid, self-involved reason just then, I had totally forgotten about Talanna. When Aline replied back with the news of her terminal prognosis, of a  mind too traumatized by successive strokes, I suddenly felt an icy cold ten-ton weight land on my shoulders.


A few years ago, for reasons you can read about on your own if you want, I jumped headlong and shockingly into the world of book heraldry. I had people coming up to me left and right for help with this and that. Even though I didn't know anything, I knew who to ask, and people I knew wanted to talk to me.

I remember somewhere in there I had made some time to talk with Talanna about some garb ideas I was interested in. We had sat down at Will Rodgers Scout camp and gone over details and books and much of what you would expect from a clothing Laurel being asking for help. I don't remember how it came up, but somewhere in there, the point came up that she had actually never registered her name or a device.

"By the way, Mistress," I said, "If you ever want to register it, I'm happy to do the legwork for you." I shrugged just then. "Just tell me what you want, I can probably make it happen for you. I'll ever fill out the forms."

To my surprise, she gave me a bit of a startled look and said, "You know, I've never, in all my years of playing, had a herald offer to do that for me?"

I shrugged again. I wasn't trying to impress anyone, or show off or anything. I was a Herald, that was what heralds do, wasn't it. And she was a friend, friends are who we're supposed to help, right? It was just the right thing to say.

She thanked me for the offer, and that was that. I honestly never gave it a passing thought after that until a few months ago when she caught me, ironically enough at the same camp side, but a few years later, and said: "Ivo, does that offer of helping me with a heraldry submission still stand?"

"Of course," I said, instantly recalling my offer.

And so, that was how I got Talanna The Violet as a client for a name and Device submission. Just like all of my other clients, I called up my friends and confidants in the College to document and check a name, a badge, and a device. When it came time to submit, I just pulled out my own check book and wrote the check. She had told me to tell her the costs and she would refund me, and that was my plan, but at the moment, it was easier to just write the check myself and settle up with her later.

The decision meeting on that submission actually happened at this past Ansteorrian heraldic and scribal symposium. Sitting in on it, this was where we decided that the name's documentation didn't hold up. I wasn't thrilled, but hey, you can't win them all, right? So, we would have to rework the name when I got back from my trip, another day, another job to do. I was actually okay with that as a next step. I pulled out my phone before leaving and set an appointment on my calendar to IM Talanna when I got back so we could talk about how to fix her name submission.

Sitting there at work, looking at my phone, between customer calls, probably one of the most poetic bits of irony landed in my lap like a two by four to the face.

My email chimed with my weekly reminder of my personal schedule for the next 7 days.

Item 2: "Remember to IM Talanna and talk about name submission this Saturday/All day reminder."

And then, ten seconds later, my phone beeped and I had to say "Thank you for calling [redacted] Pro Support, My name is Cisco, How are you doing today?"

They say that loss has five stages. It doesn't with me. I cut my teeth on too many situations too young to even think about denying when bad things happen. I don't say "no, it can't be, I don't say, "Its not possible". I just accept that bad things happen and that they can come in like a rabid lion too mad to understand its own damage.

In the midsts of all of this, I remember the last time I had actually spoken to her in person. She had come to a Mooneschadowe meeting to teach how to clean and fix sewing machines. It was just a few weeks ago now. Afterwards, she had asked me how much she owed me for the submission.

"Well, the total was for three submission items, $8 each. So lets call it $24 total... in the form of some service or item of Garb to be given to a new member or some other appropriate person."

She had smiled, nodded, and agreed. Nothing more was said, but I am supremely confident that she both understood my point, and was in agreement that the price was fair.

It felt odd remembering that conversation that day. It was so vivid, so real, so current in my mind.

But while I didn't sit there at my desk and try to deny what I had just heard, I did get angry.

Not just angry, furious. Mad at the world, the sun, the sky, the earth, the concept of existence. I was mad that this had to happen, and I was mad that the world would now be a lesser place without the likes of Talanna.

During a break, I took to Facebook, and composed my rage:

When the angel or messenger of death comes to me, whatever its name, Azriel, Anubis, Hades, aValkyriee, whatever... when they come, no matter how much pain I'm in, how old I may be, how ready I am to leave this life, I'm going to look it in the eye, say "welcome", and then I'm going to break its nose and yell "That one was for Terrick, My Aunt Candy, My Dog Pippin, and my friend Talanna the Violet. I hope your fucking snout heals crooked!" Then I'm going to walk past him and add "I'll walk from here."

It felt good to write it, it felt good to get the idea out. For just bout the first time in my life I was mad enough to contemplate honest heresy, if the Angel of the Lord had walked up to me just then, I would have more than seriously contemplated a prizefighter's right hook with lethal intent behind it.

That was time-stamped at 1:11 pm CST on my facebook page.

Twenty-one minutes later, my IM chimed.

Elena Wyth (of all people) friend and a member of the College if heralds, was IMing me.

I'd met Elena relatively recently, and my fondest memory of her is actually an argument. We had crossed sword, as it were wit strongly differnt opinions about a class idea I had, and she had gone toe-to-toe with me (quite literally) to criticise my proposition. She had walked up to me later and apologised.

I literally laughed. "For what?" I asked with an honest smile.

"I was a little more... passionate than I should have been."

"Nonsense! its good to see someone stand their ground and make a good, solid argument! You're okay in my book. No hard feelings at all!" I had meant every word of it too. Sure she was strong willed, but her arguments were sound and solid. and she never resorted to name calling or any such nonsense. For me, it was perhaps the best possible impression I could have asked for from someone.

And that memory is what was hovering in the back of my mind as I pulled up her message.

"In the scope of all things - this is very minor message, but, you were consulting herald, so! I'm going to push through Talanna's stuff."

I don't even know if Elena had ever met Talanna, or knew more than to say the name before that date. But here she was, ready to help do a unorthodox fast track on a submission so that maybe we could register Talanna's arms (and still possibly name) so that they would be on the books and protected. It turns out that the idea was her lord's to claim, but she had agreed and had evidently been closer to a computer to make it happen. But within the hour, none other than Star Principle Herald himself had called and left a message verifying that he was putting his name to the plan as well.

Later on, Elana confirmed that the special letter of intent for society level submissions had been sent.

Somewhere that night, the anger finally broke like a fever, and the weight of the whole situation landed on me like a load of laundry soaked in cold water and dropped from twenty stories up. Enough to make you miserable, but not enough to know me down. I felt sad for the loss, and sad those who had lost more. I felt guilty for feeling the way I did when other had lost so much more, and I felt worst still for not feeling worse, for being so f*ing resilient and strong that I was going to work and I was talking to customers through it all.. acting almost as if none of it bothered me.

Again, I took to Facebook

Guys, I need something to remind me there is still good in the world.
I don't need comedy or a laugh.
I need to know there are still cases where 'the good fight' is out there, and still worth fighting.
I need to remember that there are still causes worth fighting for.
I guess I need to be reminded that there still is a light at the end of this really ugly tunnel right now.

I didn't know what I expected. In fact, I'm fairly sure I wasn't expecting anything, but I just needed something, anything to remind me, on an emotional level, that there would be an end to this.

To my surprise, one of the replies was from Master Darmaid, Talanna's Husband.
"Yes, there is still good. I've learned that from the most wonderful partner a person could have. And she'd tell you so if she could."
That a man still immediately involved in the process of his wife's death could stop and write such a thing for the benefit of someone who at best is a casual acquaintance is, to my mind, a testament not only to his strength of character but also to the legacy of Talanna herself.

Its said that the 4th stage of loss is where you try and negotiate. With whom... I have no idea, but its evidently human nature to try and mitigate or otherwise control the impact of the loss.

I don't.

I don't say "I'll do anything", or "maybe we can change this" or whatever. One of the lessons I learned early, compliments of the fire service, is that death isn't a businessman. You don't negotiate, you just pay the bill hen it's due and picks up the pieces when it's over.

Trust me, as life outlooks go, this one is not something to brag about.

But, with that step gone before it ever arrived, it left me with the cold, mirthless embrace of acceptance.

I accept that I am going to walk away from this less complete than I was. I accept that the world is a lesser place without Talanna, and her contributions to us were still vibrant, and honest, and real and current and valuable.

I accept that the "other side" of this will not look like what life did before this happened. I, at least, and probably others, will forever carry the reminder of what might have been, and what will never be now.

But I also accept that to embrace these facts is to keep with the spirit of the person in question. Because to accept them is to learn to add them to life's load and move forward so that we do for others by the example of what Talanna did for us.

When another friend of mine lost his son to a fire, I wrote a poem to help me make some semblance of sense to all of this. Here, I write it again, with one line changed in honour of Talanna.

I do not pray for those lost, for they are in God's hands.
Is is for us, the living, that I now pray. For it is we who shoulder the weight of loss, the darkness of despair, and the loneliness of an empty place in our lives. 
Talanna is at peace, at rest with friends long gone.
But let us now turn our thoughts to those still with us, those next to us, friend and stranger, far and near. For I believe in my heart of hearts that there is still work to the done on this earth, and still friendships to be forged, rivalries to be set aside, lives to be built, and built up, and built upon.
There is work to be done, and it is good work, and it is important work.
~And ironically, much of it is exactly the type of monotonous work that I would expect Talanna to be doing with her sleves rolled up and her hands busy with a project or three.
For those hurting, I ask peace. 
For those morning, I ask hope.
For those haunted, I ask blessings.  
For those angry, I ask joy.
And for those lost, I ask guidance.
In Christ's name I pray,

His Lordship Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"Long Live the King!"